by George Sidney Hurd
The portrayal of the sin bearing Servant, beginning in Isaiah 52:13 and continuing through chapter 53, is central to understanding what Christ accomplished upon the cross. This is where God revealed that the Messiah would Himself fulfill that which was merely foreshadowed in the sacrifices offered for the sins of the people according to the Law. It is the only place in all the Old Testament that clearly reveals that the Messiah would Himself be the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29). It was previously alluded to when God told Abraham to offer up his only unique son Isaac, whom he loved, as a sacrifice. However, here we see for the first time in detail how God laid upon Christ the iniquity of us all as a sin offering, thereby satisfying His immutable justice in order that He might be just and at the same time justify ungodly sinners like us (Isa 53:6,10-11). It was from this very passage that Philip preached the gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:28-35).
Arguments against the Penal Substitutionary Nature of the Sin Bearing Servant’s Suffering
1) Isaiah was wrong
The penal substitutionary nature of the sin bearing Servant’s suffering and death is so evident, as we shall see, that most opponents of Christ’s Penal Substitutionary Atonement avoid the passage altogether. One exception is Gregory Boyd in his two-volume book The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. He first approaches the passage by saying that it most likely refers to the nation of Israel, rather than Christ, and that the New Testament authors simply applied it to Christ. I would just add that Jesus also applied Isaiah 53 to Himself (Luke 22:37).
This is not a new argument. In order to oppose the Christians who saw Isaiah 53 as referring to Christ, the Jews also began to say that the suffering Servant was representative of the people of Israel, rather than the Messiah as formerly taught by the rabbis. Origen, countering this claim, wisely said:
“For if the people, according to them, are the subject of the prophecy, how is the man said to be led away to death because of the iniquities of the people of God, unless he be a different person from that people of God? And who is this person save Jesus Christ, by whose stripes they who believe on Him are healed...?” 
Acknowledging that Isaiah portrayed God as being causally involved in the suffering Servant’s affliction, Boyd then, in so many words, says that Isaiah was simply mistaken. He said:
“Isaiah’s portrait of Yahweh directly afflict (sic) this servant is a divine accommodation to Isaiah’s fallen and culturally conditioned view of God.” 
In order to maintain his “cruciform hermeneutic,” Boyd must reject Isaiah’s portrayal of God as afflicting the suffering Servant, attributing it to Isaiah’s primitive Mid-Eastern mindset. I have found that most Liberals and Progressives respond in a similar manner when pressed for an explanation of what is actually being conveyed in Isaiah 53.
So, in order to detract from the obvious penal substitutionary language of Isaiah 53, Boyd first calls into question whether or not Isaiah 53 should have been applied to Christ, and then he proceeds to reject all of Isaiah’s statements which depict God as being causally involved in Christ’s suffering.
2) Punished “by” our Sins – not “for” our Sins
I have found that most opponents of Christ’s Penal Substitutionary Atonement, if they mention Isaiah 53 at all, totally avoid any references which indicate that it was God’s will that the Servant suffer. Instead, they lift portions of verses out of their context and nuance them in such a manner as to give the impression that they only speak of what men did to Christ, rather than what God, in Christ, did for us. One will often hear them partially quote Isaiah 53:4-5 in the following manner:
“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But He was wounded for (because of) our transgressions, He was bruised for (because of) our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” (Isa 53:4-5)
Often leaving out the first part of this passage which, as we shall see, has reference to the substitutional aspect of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, as well as the latter part that speaks of the penal aspect of the atonement, they partially quote it so as to say: “We thought He was being punished by God. But in reality, He was punished by us.”
I wasn’t able to find any article justifying the rendering of the text “because of” instead of “for” until a friend shared a link to an article written by Santo Calarco in the Clarion Journal entitled, Punished “for” or “by” our sins. Calarco says:
“The Hebrew preposition translated “for” is “min”. It does not mean “for” but “from” or “out of” or “because of”.
However, in the first place, the causal use of min, “because of,” is just one of the many uses of the word. It is also commonly used in the substitutionary sense, “for,” “on behalf of” or “for the sake of,” just as we see it rendered in nearly every translation of Isaiah 53. For example, in 1Samuel 7:8 it says: “cry unto the LORD our God for (min) us.” Or in Ruth 1:13, “it grieves me very much for your sakes (min) that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me.” As with most prepositions, their meanings greatly vary, being determined by the context in which they appear. And, as I will demonstrate, the context of the sin bearing Servant passage in Isaiah 53 is clearly that of substitution.
Even if one were to understand min here in the causal sense as “because of our transgressions and iniquities” it would still apply in the substitutionary sense, considering the fact that it was because of our sins that God’s justice required a substitutionary sacrifice.
What min does not mean is what the title of Calarco’s article states, and what he wants it to mean. The preposition min never means “by” in the sense of instrumentality. In order for it to read as “by” in the sense of instrumentality, it would need the Hebrew preposition be, as in, “lest you die by (be) our hand” (Jer 11:21), or ayth: “this work was done by (ayth) our God.” (Neh 6:16).
Calarco cites the New English Translation in order to demonstrate that the translators of that version understood min in Isaiah 53:4-5 as “because of.” However, the translators included an explanatory interpolation that makes it clear that they understood Christ’s suffering as being substitutionary in nature, rather than Him having been merely victimized by wicked men. The NET translation reads:
“...we thought he was being punished, attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done. 5 He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed.” (Isa 53:4-5 NET)
The NET Bible’s explanatory note says concerning these verses: “The words ‘for something he had done’ are supplied in the translation for clarification. ...he suffered because of his identification with them, not simply because he was a special target of divine anger.” They added that explanatory phrase to clarify that the emphasis of the passage is that the people mistakenly thought He was suffering for some evil thing that He Himself had done, when in reality He was suffering for/because of our sins, not because of His own. So not even the translation which Calarco quotes supports his claim that the text is saying that Christ merely died at the hands of sinners, rather than dying for, or in the place of, sinners.
No one would deny that Christ suffered and died at the hands of wicked men, but that is not the primary message of Isaiah 53. As we shall see, what the text is saying throughout is that Christ suffered and died as our substitute according to the will of God (Isa 53:10-11; Acts 2:23). The people thought that God was punishing Him for His own sins when in fact He was punished for, or because of, our sins. Our sins made it necessary for Him to suffer and die in our place in order to justify the many (Isa 53:11).
Arguments for the Penal Substitutionary Nature of the Sin Bearing Servant’s Suffering
1) “He shall sprinkle many nations” (Isa 52:15)
The sprinkling of the blood of the sin offering for the expiation of sins was an essential part of the Levitical sacrificial system. If someone sinned, they were to offer a lamb without blemish which was slain in their place in order to make expiation for their sin (Lev 5:5-10). Then once a year on Yom Kippur, the blood of the sacrificial animal was taken within the Most Holy Place and sprinkled upon the mercy seat, thereby making expiation for the children of Israel (Lev 16:15-16).
Here Isaiah says of the sin bearing Servant that His blood will sprinkle not only Israel, but “many nations.” He was the sacrificial Lamb of God that once-and-for-all took away the sins of the world (Jn 1:29). Peter alludes to Christ as the sin bearing Servant when he said that we were set apart “for the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1Peter 1:2). The author of Hebrews also made reference to the sprinkling of Christ’s blood saying:
“to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.” (Heb 12:24)
Christ’s blood speaks better things than that of Abel in that Abel’s blood cried out for justice, whereas Christ’s blood brought us justification.
There is some debate concerning whether “sprinkle” is the correct reading, since the Greek Septuagint Translation (LXX) says “astonish.” However, without going into detail, most scholars believe that the LXX misread the Hebrew word which meant “sprinkle” since it is nearly identical to the word for “astonish.”  Two other ancient Greek translations from the Hebrew, that of Theodotion (150 AD) and Aquila (130 AD), both read “sprinkle” and the 3rd century Syriac Peshitta reads “purify” which is what the sprinkling accomplishes.
Also, in the Epistle of Barnabas (70 to 135 AD) Barnabas mentions Christ’s blood of sprinkling, in the context of the Isaiah sin bearing Servant passage.  He seems to spiritually apply the sprinkling of the blood of Christ among the nations as being fulfilled through the ministry of the Apostles who spread the gospel beyond Israel to the nations. 
So Isaiah 52:15 speaks clearly of the sacrificial blood of a substitute cleansing the nations of their sins. Even if one were to go with the reading “astonish,” as a few translating committees did, it would not in any way undermine the penal and substitutionary nature of the sin bearing Servant passage. People of all nations throughout the centuries have been astonished upon hearing of all that which Christ the suffering Servant underwent on our behalf.
2) “He bore the sin of many” (Isa 53:11-12,4)
To the Jewish reader the meaning of this statement would be unmistakably that of penal substitution. The expression “to bear (nasa) one’s sin, iniquity, or guilt” was a legal term, meaning to suffer the penalty and consequences of one’s sin (Lev 24:15; 5:1; 7:18).
However, the Law provided for sin offerings in which an animal was sacrificed for the expiation of sins as a substitute, thereby removing their guilt before God:
“...God has given it (the sin offering) to you to bear the guilt of the congregation, to make atonement (expiation/propitiation) for them before the Lord?” (Lev 10:17)
In this manner, God made provision in which the sin and guilt of the offenders could be laid upon an innocent victim given as a sin offering, and in this way the animal sacrificed bore the guilt as a substitute instead of the offender, thereby expiating the sins of the people. On Yom Kippur, the Day of Expiation, the High Priest would lay the sins of the children of Israel upon the scapegoat and the goat would bear their iniquities to an uninhabited land, thereby indicating that the Lord would remove their sins as far as the east is from the west (Lev 16:20-22; Psa 103:12; Heb 10:16-18).
While it was not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins, it foreshadowed the sin bearing Servant, Jesus Christ, who would vicariously take away the sins of the world once-and-for-all (Heb 10:4-10,14).
So that which was only foreshadowed in the Levitical sacrifices, the sin bearing Servant, Jesus Christ, fulfilled, bearing our sins. Just as the sins of the people were laid upon the animal, “the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:6), and He bore our sins and iniquities in our stead (Isa 53:11-12). Peter applied this to Christ saying: “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24). The Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures could not have made the penal substitutionary nature of Christ’s suffering and death any clearer!
The opponents of Penal Substitutionary Atonement often appeal to the LXX in verse 10, as we shall see. However, on the issue of Christ vicariously bearing our sins, the LXX is just as clear, saying in verse 11, “He shall bear their sins” (τὰς ἁμαρτίας αὐτῶν αὐτὸς ἀνοίσει), and in verse 12, “he bore the sins of many” (καὶ αὐτὸς ἁμαρτίας πολλῶν ἀνήνεγκεν). The LXX is even stronger for penal substitution in verse 4 saying, “He bears our sins” (οὗτος τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν φέρειι), instead of “He has born our griefs.”
3) “It pleased the Lord to bruise Him” – “an offering for sin”
“Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise (daka) Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.” (Isa 53:10)
“But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised (daka) for our iniquities.” (Isa 53:5)
Here in verse 10, we see that, not only did the Lord allow the sin bearing Servant to be bruised or crushed (daka) for our iniquities, but that it was actually His desire to bruise Him in order to make His soul an offering for sins. The word “pleased” in Hebrew is chapets, which is the same word used earlier in Isaiah 1:11 where the Lord said: “I do not delight (chapets) in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.” The reason why He did not delight in them is stated in Hebrews 10:4: “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.” Those sacrifices only foreshadowed the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the world. Continuing in verse 5 of Hebrews 10, it tells us what the Lord did desire:
“Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. 6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you had no pleasure. 7 Then I said, 'Behold, I have come — in the volume of the book it is written of Me --
to do Your will, O God.’ 8 Previously saying, "Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them"(which are offered according to the law), 9 then He said, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.’ ...10 By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Heb 10:5-10)
What God desired was not animal sacrifices, but rather He prepared a body for God the Son to become incarnate in order to offer Himself in our place as the once-and-for-all sacrifice for sins. It is by that will that we have been sanctified. It is not the life and ministry of Jesus that is here being referred to, although He was well-pleasing to the Father in all things. Rather, what is said to have pleased God here was the substitutionary death of Christ, giving His body as the once-and for-all sacrifice for sin. This is what Jesus meant when He cried out in Gethsemane, “not my will but Your will be done” (Matt 26:42; Luke 22:42).
While it was wicked men and not God that afflicted Christ, we see that Christ’s suffering and death was nevertheless according to God’s will. As Peter explained to the Jews on the day of Pentecost:
“Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.” (Acts 2:23)
The wording of Isaiah 53:10 is particularly offensive to the opponents of Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement. As I previously pointed out, many of them would simply say that Isaiah was mistaken.
Others, like Keith Giles, appeal to the Greek LXX rendering of verse 10. The LXX is generally similar to other translations based upon the Masoretic Hebrew text except in verse 10 where the LXX reads entirely different. Instead of reading, “it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin,” the LXX reads:
“The Lord also is pleased to purge him from his stroke. If you can give an offering for sin your soul shall see a long-lived seed.”
Keith Giles gives a couple of reasons why he thinks we should not go with the Hebrew text, but the LXX Greek text, saying:
“Evangelicals...have no problem whatsoever using the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Old Testament scriptures in their English Bibles. Why? Because even though it was created by Jewish rabbis almost exclusively to debunk Christianity, it contains verses like this in Isaiah 53:10:..
This verse [and several others in the Masoretic text] suggest that God was the one who caused Jesus to suffer on the cross. This makes Evangelicals happy because they embrace the doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory.
So, what’s wrong with this verse? Well, it came a few hundred years after the birth of the Christian faith and it radically re-writes the older Septuagint text which was used and quoted by Jesus himself. [That’s right.]
The Septuagint text which pre-dates the Masoretic actually teaches us that God’s response to the crucifixion of Jesus was to “cleanse [or heal] him of the injury” and that it was not God, but ‘you’ [or ‘us’] who made him ‘a sin offering.’” 
According to him, we should reject the common rendering of verse 10 because our translations are all based upon the later Hebrew Masoretic text which was altered by the Jewish rabbis hundreds of years later in order to debunk Christianity. However, what he fails to mention is that the Masoretic text is practically identical to the Hebrew 1Q Isaiah scroll found in the Qumran caves near the Dead Sea in 1947, which dates back to around the same time that the LXX was compiled. The following is a comparison:
1Q Isaiah scroll:
“Yet it pleased Yahweh to bruise him. He has caused him to suffer. When you make his soul an offering for sin, he will see his offspring. He will prolong his days, and Yahweh’s pleasure will prosper in his hand.” (Isaiah Scroll 1QIsaa)
Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
“The Lord also is pleased to purge him from his stroke. If you can give an offering for sin your soul shall see a long-lived seed.”
Whatever one might say against the Masoretic text, it certainly cannot be argued that the Jewish rabbis altered Isaiah 53:10 in order to oppose the Christian message, since it agrees with the Isaiah Dead Sea scroll which predates Christ by about 200 years. Also, it points to Christ as the suffering Messiah in a much clearer manner than the LXX.
Also, while it is true as Giles says, that Jesus and the New Testament authors frequently quoted from the Greek LXX, they can also be seen to have quoted from the Hebrew text on numerous occasions. Mike Winger points out a couple of instances where the New Testament authors favored the Hebrew over the LXX when alluding to Isaiah 53. They are as follows:
“He took our weaknesses and bore our sicknesses.”
τας ασθενειας ημων ελαβεν και τας νοσους εβαστασεν
Isaiah 53:4 Hebrew:
“He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”
Isaiah 53:4 LXX
“He bore our sins and was grieved on our account.”
οὗτος τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν φέρει καὶ περὶ ἡμῶν ὀδυνᾶται
Matthew here favors the Hebrew text rather than the LXX. Also, Paul alludes to the Hebrew instead of the LXX in Romans 5:19.
“by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous.”
Isaiah 53:11 Hebrew:
“My righteous Servant shall justify many.”
Isaiah 53:11 LXX
“to justify the just one who serves many well.”
δικαιῶσαι δίκαιον εὖ δουλεύοντα πολλοῖς
Just as we often do today, they normally used a translation in the common language of the time, which was Koine Greek, but whenever the translation deviated from the original, they went with the original.
Much more could be said concerning the penal substitutionary nature of Isaiah 53, but due to space limitations I will just briefly comment on the phrase “an offering for sin.” What would a Jew understand by the reference to Him making His soul an offering for sin? The Hebrew word is ‘asham, and is used 33 times throughout the Old Testament referring specifically to a sin or trespass offering, usually involving the sacrifice of a spotless substitutionary lamb for the expiation of sins committed.
Jesus, as the sinless Lamb of God, offered up His soul as an offering for the sins of the world! Because of His once-and-for-all sacrifice we are now justified freely by God’s grace. To me, such an unspeakable gift brings great joy and a deep sense of gratitude. I am appalled and grieved to see so many in this generation who show nothing but contempt for such a glorious truth. I personally believe that those teachers who aggressively oppose Christ’s Penal Substitutionary Atonement are those whom Paul referred to as “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil 3:18). I believe that they are in danger of becoming liable of counting the blood of the covenant by which we were sanctified as a common thing, often even saying that one could be saved even if Christ hadn’t shed His blood in our place (Heb 10:29).
In the next blog I will be considering some of the forensic motifs that are used in Scripture which demonstrate the penal aspect of the atonement. While God’s redemptive plan has restored relationships as it’s final goal, such a relationship would not be possible apart from Christ’s Penal Substitutionary Atonement which satisfied God’s immutable justice, thereby making it possible for Him to be just and justify sinners, the objects of His love.
 God did this, not only to test Abraham, but primarily to emphasize that He did not require human sacrifices: that He Himself would provide the ultimate sacrificial lamb (Gen 22:8). That is why Abraham prophetically called the place on mount Moriah where he offered up Isaac “the Lord will provide”:
“And Abraham called the name of the place, The-Lord-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, ‘In the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided’” (Gen 22:14). I believe that mount Calvary, where God provided the ultimate sacrifice of Himself in the person of the Son, will be seen to have been the very same place where Abraham offered up his son Isaac.
 Greg Boyd says: “Though Isaiah is likely referring to the nation of Israel as Yahweh’s “suffering servant” in Isaiah 53, NT authors as well as Christian Bible interpreters throughout history have understood this servant to be a prophetic reference to the crucified Christ.” Boyd, Gregory A. The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2 (pp. 865-866). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.
 Origen, Against Celsus, Chapter 55
 Boyd, Gregory A.; Boyd, Gregory A.. The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2 (p. 867). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.
 Epistle of Barnabas, Chapter 5: “For to this end their Lord endured to deliver up His flesh to corruption that we might be sanctified through the remission of sins, which is effected by His blood of sprinkling. For it was written concerning Him… ‘He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities: with His stripes we are healed. He was brought as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb which is dumb before its shearer.”
 Epistle of Barnabas, Chapter 8, commenting on the typology of the sprinkling of the blood of the red heifer sacrifice in Numbers 19, Barnabas says :
“The calf is Jesus: the sinful men offering it are those who led Him to the slaughter. But now the men are no longer guilty, are no longer regarded as sinners. And the boys that sprinkle are those that have proclaimed to us the remission of sins and purification of heart. To these He gave authority to preach the Gospel, being twelve in number...”
The Inerrency of Scripture
The Love of God
The Fear of the Lord
The Question of Evil
Understanding the Atonement
Homosexuality and the Bible
Answers to Objections:
Has God Rejected Israel:
God's Glorious Plan for the Ages
The Manifest Sons of God
The Trinity and the Deity of Christ
Eternal Preexistence of Christ
Preterism vs. Futurism
The Two-Gospel Doctrine Examined